Antal Dorati introduced his latest large-scale composition to Washington and to this country last night when he led the National Symphony in his nine-song cycle, "Voices."
Written for Swiss bass Peter Lagger, the work originally was for voice and piano. In its new orchestral garb it has a darkly rich sound deriving from eloquent emphasis on the deeper ranges of the instruments. To poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, there are nine songs, heard last night in Doratihs own English translation. The poems constitute a gallery of the world's less fortunate: the begger, the blind man, the drunkard, the suicide, the widow, the idiot, the orphan, the dwarf and the leper.
Rilke gives his rationale for the poems at the outset, saying "The rich men, the fortunate, may remain silent...but the unhappy ones must cry out, weeping." The result, from both poet and composer, is a sustained procession of human misery without relief and, in Rilke's poems, without hope. Dorati, unwilling to leave a picture of total gloom with no ray of hope, has added a closing reminder, saying, "The unhappy ones may cry out, weeping. They shall be heard and shall be comforted." The thought is too little and comes too late.
The music, except for the song of the dwarf, moves thoughout at a moderate, ambling pace. Lagger's superb bass is used chiefly in a declamatory, parlando manner.
The text, having no room for beauty or joy, speaks of scabs, bowels and vomit. The is a quick reminder of Mussorgsky's Simpleton in the song of the widow; an echo of Mahler's grotesquery here and there; and, in the song of the idiot, a ghostly waltz of macabre humor. But the dogs snarl, and the leper's stick rattles, and the final effect is diffuse and restless.The performance was felicitous and the audience's response notably warm and friendly.
The Mozart Requiem in the second half of the evening was sheer beauty, with a quartet of rare poise and balance led by the exquisite soprano of Heather Harper, nobly seconded by Claudine Carlson's velvety mezzo, Anthony Rolfe Johnson's distinguished tenor, and the fine Lagger bass. Paul Traver's chorus from the University of Maryland sang with ideal tone and style, encouraged in all their fine ways by Dorati's enlightened direction.